Top 10 1976–1977 Shaw Brothers Martial Arts Films

1976 and 1977 were wonderful years for the Shaw Brothers studio, filled with an abundance of great films that made narrowing this list to 10 a challenging proposition. Wuxias, largely following the patterns set by the films of King Hu and Chang Cheh, had fallen out of favor by the early ’70s, but Chor Yuen’s 1976 film Killer Clans — and the many that followed it — injected new life and new ideas into a faded genre. Chor’s unique re-focusing of the genre towards literary adaptations and tales showcasing mental fortitude over purely physical abilities made him a driving force in the industry, and the next monumental figure in the history of the wuxia genre. Meanwhile, Lau Kar-Leung released his next two films during these years, pushing the realistic kung fu seen in Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle films to new heights. During this period, Chang Cheh was also forced to reckon with the fact that he was no longer the driving force of Hong Kong action filmmaking, as his time in Taiwan came to a close.

These years also saw the rise of other Hong Kong cinema luminaries outside of the Shaw system. Sammo Hung’s first directorial effort, The Iron-Fisted Monk, was a huge hit, Richard Ng became a star with both the #1 & #2 film of 1977 (John Woo’s The Pilferer’s Progress & Karl Maka’s Winner Takes All!), and the Hui Brothers continued their blockbuster dominance with 1976’s The Private Eyes. Jackie Chan was also on the verge of superstardom with the looming release of Yuen Woo-Ping’s Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow a few months into 1978, but during 1976–1977 he was still making a string of films for Lo Wei. Other non-Shaw fan favorites released during these years include: The 18 Bronzemen, One-Armed Boxer Vs The Flying Guillotine (Master of the Flying Guillotine), The Secret Rivals, The Hot, the Cool and the Vicious, The Invincible Armour, Snuff-Bottle Connection, Broken Oath, and many, many more. With this introduction, I hope to paint a brief picture of these years in Hong Kong cinema, both to refresh memories or to spur new fans to dive deeper. 🙂

As usual, I’ve included links to iTunes/Amazon/DDDHouse for easy access if you’re looking to get the films. The availability is current as of the posting of this list. eBay is always a good option, as well, if my links don’t turn up any results. If you’re interested in what’s below the cut and you don’t want to troll through my review archive, I have ranked lists on Letterboxd for every year I’ve finished in the Shaw Brothers Chronological review series. You can find 1976 here and 1977 here.

OK, OK, let’s get to the list!


#10 Judgement of an Assassin (1977)
Directed by Sun Chung
Reviewed August 10, 2018

Judgement of an Assassin was Sun Chung’s first wuxia since 1972’s The Devil’s Mirror, a film I absolutely adore. Sun’s return exists in a middle ground between the brooding darkness of Chor Yuen and the comic book sensibilities of Chang Cheh’s The Brave Archer, delivering fun and exciting choreography in a wonderful package. It feels like an underseen film, and that should definitely not be the case. With its near-perfect combo of entertaining action and a beautifully structured story, this is a movie that all Shaw Brothers fans should see.

Judgement of an Assassin is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD or VCD. Check Amazon or eBay, and keep your fingers crossed that Celestial may release the film digitally sometime in the future.

#9 The Shaolin Avengers (1976)
Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)
Reviewed December 8, 2017

The Shaolin Avengers is top-notch Shaolin Cycle; a fantastic movie that cohesively combines the stories of Fang Shih-Yu and Hu Huei-Chien into one thrilling, entertaining package. Its greatness lies in its structure; the film opens with its finale, fading in and out into flashbacks that show how our heroes and villains all came to this particular battle. The structure removes a lot of the tension inherent in a traditional revenge story, but this is the point. Instead, I pondered the nature of life, how small moments remind you of people or places, and how important preparation is to success. The Shaolin Avengers is a film of pure entertainment that builds up more of the Shaolin mythology of the earlier films, or in other words, it’s every thing I could want out of a Shaolin Cycle film.

On disc, The Shaolin Avengers is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD or VCD. Check Amazon or eBay. Digitally it is available for rental/purchase at iTunes, Amazon Prime, and other top digital platforms.

Continue reading Top 10 1976–1977 Shaw Brothers Martial Arts Films →

Judgement of an Assassin (1977)

Judgement of an Assassin [決殺令] (1977)

Starring David Chiang, Chung Wah, Ching Li, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Wai Wang, Ku Feng, Wang Lai, Cheng Miu, Lau Wai-Ling, Ngaai Fei, Ku Wen-Chung, Ku Kuan-Chung, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chan Shen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: High. I’ve wanted to see this one for a while.


Judgement of an Assassin sees director Sun Chung re-inserting himself into the newly revitalized wuxia genre. He made one of my all-time favorite Shaw wuxias, 1972’s The Devil’s Mirror, but his filmography is devoid of wuxias up until Judgement of an Assassin. To say that I was eagerly anticipating this film is underselling it some, especially because the next year Sun went on to make The Avenging Eagle, a film I happened to catch in the theater some years ago and have been in love with ever since. Judgement of an Assassin had a lot to live up to, and it absolutely stood up to the challenge. It is a wuxia that feels unique amidst the vast Shaw catalog up to this point, and it is sort of a middle ground between the brooding darkness of Chor Yuen and the comic book sensibilities Chang Cheh brought to life in The Brave Archer. It is also a return to the general fun of early Shaw wuxias, but with all the excitement and thrills of 1977 choreography. Like previous Sun Chung films, Judgement of an Assassin has immediately endeared itself to me, and I see it becoming a favorite I’ll return to often.

Masked assassins raid the home of the Golden Axe Clan, but when the final blow is dealt to the clan leader, the assassin boldly states his name for the record. Surely, this has to be a setup, right? Who would do that? The named man is arrested for this crime and placed inside a spiked coffin designed to limit the prisoner’s movement and torture him simultaneously. He is taken to the house of Madam Fa (Wang Lai), who will preside over the grand hearing to determine his fate. The entire martial world converges on the trial, with some members utilizing the opportunity to jockey for power, while others attempt to uncover the truth of the murder on their own. Like any good wuxia, Judgement of an Assassin is filled with many colorful characters, but here the main character is actually the martial world itself. It’s a great choice to tell this particular story, though I can see some not connecting with it if you’re looking for a more conventional film.

Continue reading Judgement of an Assassin (1977) →

Lady Exterminator (1977)

Lady Exterminator [阿Sir毒后老虎槍] (1977)

Starring Chen Ping, Yueh Hua, Chung Wah, Derek Yee, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Shut Chung-Tin, Wa Lun, Zheng Lou-Si, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Yeung Chi-Hing, Keung Hon, Chiang Tao, Ku Wen-Chung, Ng Hong-Sang, Stephan Yip Tin-Hang, Kong San

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: I enjoyed The Sexy Killer. I hope the sequel is fun, too.


Lady Exterminator is an ultra-rare Shaw Brothers film, as far as I know only surviving as a horribly degraded, full-screen bootleg of a Lebanese film print with English-dubbed dialogue and French & Arabic burned-in subtitles. Bootlegs have done a lot of harm to the kung fu DVD industry, but there are a few instances like this where bootlegs help the fan base keep an otherwise lost film alive. While this mangled print theoretically shouldn’t have any bearing on the film’s quality, it inevitably made it difficult to get into the film. I’m not usually a fan of English dubs anyway; I have a hard time connecting with characters emotionally when their dialogue doesn’t accurately reflect the emotions on-screen. Even with these factors stacked against my enjoyment of Lady Exterminator, I was still able to extract a fair amount of entertainment. The fact that it was a sequel helped, too, because I was already familiar with the characters that Chen Ping and Yueh Hua play.

A gang of criminals have discovered a police informer in their midst. They chase him through the streets and into the dank tunnels under the city, leading the pursuit to the subway system. The criminals catch the fleeing man and brutally beat him. They tie him to the subway tracks on all fours, so he is looking directly at the oncoming train as it plows into him. It’s a gripping way to open a film, and these moments of intense brutality are one of the few things helped by the horrific quality of the print. Shot in real locations around Hong Kong, filtered through multiple generations of video dubs, the brutal violence takes on the vibe of a snuff film found at the bottom of a well. Anyway, with his lead informant murdered, police detective Geng Weiping (Yueh Hua) must find a new way to get information out of the heroin-dealing drug gangs running rampant through the city. He turns to Gao Wanfei (Chen Ping), now in prison after the events of The Sexy Killer, where she took on the drug gang that killed her sister. Gao agrees, but she wants to do it right. She decides to shoot up some heroin, addicting herself so the gang believes her and easily accepts her into the fold. Now that’s commitment!

Continue reading Lady Exterminator (1977) →

Big Bad Sis (1976)

Big Bad Sis [沙膽英] (1976)

Starring Chen Ping, Wong Chung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Chong Lee, Siu Yam-Yam, Ku Kuan-Chung, Wang Hsieh, Queenie Kong Hoh-Yan, Kong Oh-Oi, Daan Fung, Yeung Chi-Hing, Chiang Nan, Teresa Ha Ping, Wong Ching-Ho, Shum Lo, Chan Lap-Ban, Kong San, Wong Jing-Jing, Mak Wa-Mei

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: Excited to see another Sun Chung movie.


The Shaw Brothers catalog boasts many female-led action films, but rarely do they feel as actively feminist as Sun Chung’s Big Bad Sis. Themes of female empowerment and sisterhood are front and center throughout, elevating the film beyond its exploitation and action roots. Don’t worry, though, this is quite far from an Oscar-bait message film; Big Bad Sis gets its point across while being relentlessly entertaining. Unfortunately, it’s not as potent as it could’ve been — an incredibly overlong, gratuitous sex scene mars the film’s mid-section — but fans of Chen Ping and Shaw Brothers crime films of the era should find a lot to enjoy here.

Big Bad Sis is centered around Ah Ying (Chen Ping), the Big Bad Sis of the title. She works alongside many other women in a textile factory, but she is much more than a co-worker. The film begins when a new hire, Ah Fong (Chong Lee), is assaulted in the bathroom by a group of thuggish co-workers. Sai Chu (Siu Yam-Yam) senses that something is wrong and checks on Ah Fong. She tries her best to overcome the group of abusive women, but she is no match for them. By this time, the situation has attracted more attention, and Ah Ying steps in to break it up. Her fists and strong spirit are formidable, and in teaching the bullies a lesson, she gains the friendship of Ah Fong and Sai Chu in the process. Ah Ying is a woman who has the power to stand up to oppression in all its forms, and in helping her co-workers she finds a new purpose. She isn’t a trained martial artist, but she begins to teach Ah Fong and Sai Chu self-defense tactics.

Continue reading Big Bad Sis (1976) →

The Sexy Killer (1976)

The Sexy Killer [毒后秘史] (1976)
AKA The Drug Connection

Starring Chen Ping, Yueh Hua, Si Wai, Wang Hsieh, Angela Yu Chien, Tin Ching, Chan Shen, Lee Pang-Fei, Yeung Chak-Lam, Lam Fung, Lau Kwok-Shing, Tung Lam, Kong Yeung, Lin Wen-Wei, Mi Lan, Lam Yi-Wa

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: Pretty high.


Expectations can be a film’s worst enemy at times. In the case of The Sexy Killer, I went in thinking about how I had enjoyed the exploitative Shaw films I’d seen in the last few years, as well as how much I liked Sun Chung’s earlier films in my Shaw series (not to mention The Avenging Eagle). But The Sexy Killer was not strong enough to stand up to this kind of pressure. It disappointed me at nearly every turn, only redeeming itself with a great third act (but still a marginal film overall). I may like The Sexy Killer more on a re-watch, but I feel like I’d reach for The Kiss of Death or something from Kuei Chih-Hung’s filmography before I willfully sat down with this one again.

The Sexy Killer begins strong, though. We open in a rock ‘n’ roll club, where teens dance the night away to saxophone-infused atonal jams. One of these dancers is Gao Wanjing (Mi Lan), but she is really here for a more deviant reason: She’s looking to score some heroin to quiet her addictive yearnings. When the dealer comes around she agrees to “do anything” for her fix, and before we know it, the police are investigating the scene where her unconscious body has been found. Her sister, Gao Wanfei (Chen Ping), has come with the cops and she can hardly contain her rage when she sees her sister in such a sorry state. Gao Wanfei is sick of police bureaucracy and their slowness in cleaning up the city, so she vows to do some cleaning of her own.

Continue reading The Sexy Killer (1976) →

Top 10 Shaw Brothers Wuxia Films @ ShawBrothersUniverse.com!

 

How’s it going, Emulsionaires! I teamed up with Matt from Blood Brothers Film Reviews to write up a list of the Top 10 Shaw Brothers Wuxia Films for the official Shaw Brothers site! Check it out here and enjoy! And feel free to let me know what we got wrong in the comments. 😛

The Bloody Escape (1975)

The Bloody Escape [逃亡] (1975)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Shih Szu, Wai Wang, Wu Chi-Chin, Chiang Tao, Chan Shen, Li Min-Lang, Yeung Chi-Hing, Pao Chia-Wen, Wong Ching-Ho, Lei Lung, Chen Wo-Fu

Directed by Sun Chung (and Chang Cheh to some degree)

Expectations: High.


The Bloody Escape was one of the many films released in 1975 that had actually sat around unfinished for a while. Some magazine scans on Cool Ass Cinema show that the film started shooting as a solo directing gig for Chang Cheh, but from another scan in a post on the Kung Fu Fandom message board we can see that Sun Chung was cited as a joint director from the beginning of the project. For some reason the film wasn’t finished at that time, though, leaving Sun Chung to finish it up for its eventual release in 1975. The film’s on-screen credits list Sun Chung as the sole director, but all the online databases and even Chang Cheh’s memoir list Chang as the film’s co-director (and co-writer). How much of the film is Sun Chung and how much is Chang Cheh is something we may never know, but in terms of feel The Bloody Escape definitely doesn’t give off the usual vibe of a Chang Cheh film.

What it does feel like is a variation on what is probably Sun Chung’s most well-known film, The Avenging Eagle… three years before that film came out! So I suppose it’s actually the other way around, but I imagine almost everyone watching Shaw films nowadays came to the films in the “incorrect order.” In any case, The Avenging Eagle is one of the best Shaw Brothers films out there, bearing a wonderful story and script by Ni Kuang, so an earlier, lesser version of that film starring Chen Kuan-Tai is quite the find among the many nooks and crannies of the Shaw catalog.

Continue reading The Bloody Escape (1975) →

Subscribe via Email!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 75 other subscribers

Ongoing Series

Top Posts & Pages